By Sarah Bauer
VANCOUVER — Frazey Ford is still processing the experience of making her second solo album, Indian Ocean. Her story is the stuff of dreams: music historian Robert Gordon hears a song from her 2010 debut Obadiah on the radio while he’s getting a tire changed, picks up its early-70s, slow-rolling soul vibes, gets in touch with Ford and coordinates a series of recording sessions for her with Al Green’s legendary backing band, The Hi Rhythm Section, at the Royal Studios in Memphis, TN. To call the last few years overwhelming for Ford would be an understatement.
Hitting the road to tour Indian Ocean on October 14th (the same day as its release), has given Ford the chance to catch her breath and reflect on the intense adventure. Interviews, like the one she had with BeatRoute while stopped over in New York between shows, let her relive the magic.
“It was like being inside a living museum,” she says. “It’s just wild when you get to know people whose music you’ve known for so long. I still can’t believe it happened.”
The Hi Rhythm Section – “the guys” – are most celebrated for their work with Green and Ann Peebles during the heyday of Memphis soul music, an era Ford draws influence from.
“I have so much reverence for how they play together with such fluidity and subtlety,” she says. Indian Ocean sees Ford easing with seeming effortlessness into the Hi Rhythm musical style, where power and emotion sits in the spaces between sounds. Fused with Ford’s folk background – she’s a founding member of celebrated Canadian trio The Be Good Tanyas, and collaborated with her band in Vancouver on demos to bring to back to Memphis – these 11 tracks pair well with shimmying on the kitchen floor, warmed on whiskey (“Done”, “Natural Law” and “September Fields”, especially).
Working with the Hi Rhythm Section proved to be full of lessons for Ford, and not just about music.
“I learned a lot about how short life is,” she says. Guitarist Teenie Hodges passed away soon after Indian Ocean production wrapped up, and Ford remembers how he “gave himself so completely” in their last session together despite being ill. “We’re not here for very long,” Ford says, “you really do have to just go for it.”
Going for it can be scary, as Ford discovered while putting together Indian Ocean. “It was not an easy album to make,” she says. Ford jumped into production close on the heels of touring Obadiah, without much material prepared, and had to learn to let “nature takes it course,” by allowing the “help of all this genius” to support her work. It was a hard process that pushed Ford out of her comfort zone.
Yet while the album quietly triumphs as a testament to exceeding artistic boundaries, Ford’s iconic qualities do not falter. Her voice sounds essential, like a mother’s whisper. She curls vibrato on vowels with smoky warmth, all slow and gentle. It’s unmistakably Ford and absolutely timeless; on Indian Ocean, an upbeat, brassy version of “September Fields” plays bookends to a slow, sobering acoustic take, and both hold up with rich, nourished melody. Indian Ocean has all the elements of becoming a classic album with a backstory worth its weight in soul.
Frazey Ford performs at St. James Hall December 4.BC, British Columbia, Frazey Ford, St. James Hall